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Ward should have his bust in Canton in due time

With deserving wide receivers such as Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter being kept out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the wall could be a high one for Hines Ward to climb once he becomes eligible. At least for the first few tries.

At some point, though, Ward will have his bust emblazoned in Canton -- and deservedly so.

What will happen with this charming person and rugged, tough and highly productive football player is his legend will grow like Paul Bunyan's over time. See, Ward already has managed to captivate fringe fans and nonfans by winning "Dancing With The Stars," and he'll triple that appeal when he enters the broadcast studio after his career is done.

Ward, who the Steelers said Wednesday will be released, has been setting the table for that transition for the past few years, and he's probably as recognizable to the general public as any of his teammates, including Ben Roethlisberger.

It's a shame Ward's off-the-field charisma eventually will be what leads him to be recognized as a great football player, but whatever works, right? This is the era in which we live. Highlights move the meter, even for the knowledgeable voters who choose members of the hallowed Hall.

Ward doesn't make the highlight-film plays like legendary Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann, who had fewer receptions (336), receiving yards (5,462) and receiving touchdowns (51) than Ward (1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 TDs) yet is in the Hall. Ward isn't the consistent deep threat like former Pittsburgh great John Stallworth, who's also in the Hall of Fame, but Ward is more well-rounded.

Sure, Ward plays in an era when throwing the ball is more abundant than it was when Swann, Stallworth and so many other receivers played, and thus comparing stats in different eras isn't always fair. Then again, Ward has played 14 seasons, and this Madden-type aerial football we're seeing today wasn't in vogue for much of his career.

Still, he has made the most of it. That's what separates Ward -- a two-time Super Bowl winner and one-time Super Bowl MVP -- from so many other receivers: He's a football player. He does more than catch 10-yard curls or 15-yard drags. He blocks, rocks, and he played football the Steeler way.

His career might not be over, but with so many younger players coming into the league and Ward now considered a chain-moving slot receiver or second option on most plays, he might not receive another chance unless an injury to someone else necessitates it.

Ward now is lumped in with a group that includes Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Ronde Barber as veterans who have spent their careers with one franchise but whose futures are in limbo. If all of their careers end now, together, that's one tough Hall of Fame class for Ward to crack in that first year of eligibility.

That could just be the beginning of Ward's trek to the Hall of Fame, but he should -- and will -- make it there one day.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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